Archive for April, 2007


Friday, April 20th, 2007

There are few things more stereotypically American than burgers, except for maybe apple pie. But since there hasn’t yet been a game called Apple Pie Time, we’ll have to make do with this one.

Burgertime takes the concept of making burgers and instead of taking this concept to its logical extreme, the game takes it to its completely illogical, crazy extreme.

I was never able to figure out if your character was a tiny chef or if the food was just gigantic, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. what does matter is that you have a series of ladders with buns, meat, an lettuce on them. Your job is to assemble the giant burgers by walking along the pieces and making them fall down one level, and eventually create completed burgers.

Hindering you are foods that are the same size as our hero: Mr. Egg, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Hot Dog. They will chase you down and if they touch you, they’ll kill you. Your only weapons are a shaker of pepper with an extremely limited amount of shakes (this will stun the enemy foods) and the actual giant hamburger components (these will squish and temporarily incapacitate the enemy foods).

Your goal is to just last as long as possible, create as many burgers as you can, and get lots of points. Oh, and to try and not go crazy watching the undulations of an ambulatory tube steak.

Dungeon Lords

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Who is D.W. Bradley? A cursory search of the Internet tells me that he is a video game designer from way back, working on such games as Wizardry and Cybermage, games I’ve never played. But there in the store was a copy of D.W. Bradley’s latest masterpiece, Dungeon Lords.

I’m a sucker for a well crafted adventure game. Heck, I’m apparently also a sucker for an adventure game that I’ve only just heard of, regardless of quality.

Dungeon Lords is probably the most generically derivative medieval-themed adventure game that you’ll ever play. That may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your tastes. I don’t really know what the plot to this game is, I couldn’t stomach enough to learn very much.

Without going too deep into the specifics, I’m going to try and explain how this game works, or more accurately, doesn’t work at all. After the extremely basic character creation, you’re plunked down in the middle of some Generic Woods near a Generic Bonfire and get your first Generic Quest from the Generic Messenger to get into the Generic Castle-town. From here you have two options: wander through the woods aimlessly while slaughtering things or wander around the woods toward the castle while slaughtering things.

In an obvious nod to the Diablo series of games, you will be equipped with weapons and armor befitting a warrior of your chosen class. These items will lose durability with use and eventually break. This is important to note.

The real meat and potatoes of any adventure game is the amount of ’stuff’ to do, and the enemy encounters. I can’t really comment about the ’stuff’ part, since I never got more than one quest. The enemy encounters, on the other hand… Well, let’s start by calling them unbalanced.

Enemy encounters come in two types: creatures standing in a specific place on the map, and creature ‘waves’ that assault you every so often. Creatures standing in a specific place are by far the least common types of enemies. They guard bridges, guard huts, guard anything you might want to look at or explore. They’re a moderate threat.

The other way you might encounter monsters is in ‘waves’. Every so often, seemingly every five minutes or so, you will be assaulted by three or so monsters appropriate to the area. You defeat these monsters, move on a bit, get assaulted by more monsters, move on a bit, get assaulted by yet more monsters, etc.

Getting assaulted every few dozen steps wouldn’t be so bad except for a few things that cascade together into a gigantic mess of design:

  1. Every time you get into a fight, your stuff goes down in durability, and you have no way to repair it until (presumably) you get to town. I never actually made it to town.
  2. Since your stuff is perpetually decreasing in durability, it will eventually break. The monsters drop wearables so rarely that once your starting armor does break (and it will break) you will have that much less armor
  3. Since you are wearing progressively less armor, you take progressively more damage from the area monsters
  4. Since you take more damage from the area monsters, you die a lot. When you die you have a chance to not only lose some experience, but statistics as well. Statistics that govern your effectiveness as a fighter. Stats that can only be increased by leveling your character, making you weaker overall.

The game has other failings: the art direction, the sound design, the voice acting, the limited variety of monsters, and the ridiculously obtuse controls, but they’re not really worth going into. The biggest flaw with the game is the game itself. The design at its core is flawed, and the rest of the game just turns into a gelid mass of failure.

It’s worth noting that I actually got the Deluxe Edition of the game, the version of the game that had features that didn’t quite make it into the first game, like a map. Too bad they weren’t able to put any fun into it.


Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Jeopardy! is itself an American game show institution. Its borderline-insane longevity and popularity mean that eventually someone somewhere is going to have to cash in on it and bring the game to homes in whatever way possible. Ways that, since the 1980s, include the home video game market.

Jeopardy! is an example of a game that takes the absolute bare-minimum concepts of the thing that it’s based on and comes just shy of failing miserably at it.

Jeopardy!, in accordance with the television show, allows you and up to one of your friends to compete to provide the question to a series of answers that are provided to you. The harder the answer, the more points the question is worth. Answer wrong and you lose points. Nothing too out of the ordinary here.

This game also features the hypnotically-addictive Jeopardy! theme song (apparently titled “Think!”) that plays during key moments, and it even had a picture and the voice of Alex Trebek! For the Super Nintendo, this was quite the feat. Even if Alex Trebek sounded like he was bound, gagged, and locked in a closet full of packing peanuts, you got to hear his ACTUAL VOICE saying: “The answer is…”.

The problems are few, but very important.

There aren’t very many categories. I played through this game three times, and was already seeing repeats of categories. Even that wouldn’t be so bad, but you had the same answers in the same positions every time the category came up. So the first time you saw the $600 answer for the category ‘European Leaders’ you were always going to know what that answer is. Plain text should have been trivial to put into this game, but I have to believe that most of the space on the apparently budget cartridge was spent on the ridiculously ‘high-res’ pictures of Alex and your character avatars and the super-amazing voice sample.

Perhaps more of a glaring issue is Final Jeopardy!. In Final Jeopardy! you and your opponents take turns answering the same… answer. The problem here is that you have to answer by selecting letters with the control pad, and you have to be able to see what you’re typing in to check for typos. The problem with that is that everyone in the room that can see the television will get to see what you put in for your answer is. Unless you play the game ‘no peeksies’ style, the first person to put in the correct answer will give everyone else the correct answer.

Oh, but the game does allow you to set the number of players to zero and watch the computer play a game of Jeopardy! against itself. And it’s not as boring as it sounds. It’s much, much worse.


Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

In the 90’s it was time for a new puzzle game, it was time for Klax.

At least that’s what the tag-line told me. I couldn’t really fathom how this game was different from most puzzle games, since it involved sorting things, but that’s what the game told me, so it must have been true.

Klax prominently features a large conveyor belt with a mobile sorting apparatus over a 5 x 5 bin. Multi-colored tiles march down the conveyor belt, and it’s your job to catch the tiles and drop them in the bin in such a way that at least three of the same color tile match up and disappear. This maneuver is called a Klax. Your goal is to complete a specific number of these Klaxs, or to fulfill some other ridiculous requirement, like making a ‘Big X’.

There are a couple of things that are striking about the audio in this game. The tiles scream when they fall over the edge of the conveyor belt, presumably to their doom. Each color of tile makes a distinctive sound as it is coming down the conveyor belt, providing the only ambient sound in the game, there is no ‘puzzle music’. And when you finally lose the game a crowd exclaims, “Awww!”

Klax is also unusual among puzzle games in that it does have an end, level 100. What happens if you complete level 100? No idea. I’m not that good of a Klax player.

The NES version of Klax comes with a ‘game’ called Blob Ball. It’s less of a game, and more of a ‘thingus’. You have a blob, some spikes, a moving platform that looks like it came straight out of Pong, and a blob-like ball-thing. You can control the platform and try to deflect the ball away from the spikes, you can control the blob and bounce around and try to hit the spikes, or the platform, or the walls. The ball screams when it hits the spikes. The whole ‘game’ is very odd, and I didn’t spend very much time on it. I get the impression that it was thrown in to take up room on the cartridge.

Pipe Dream

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Pipe Dream (a.k.a. Pipe Mania, or about a thousand different clones), I’m constantly surprised that more people haven’t heard of it.

Pipe Dream is a puzzle game that does away with the standard ’sort things and make them disappear’, and instead has you creating a network of pipes from random pieces to contain the flow of a mystery liquid. What the liquid is changes in each incarnation, but it really doesn’t matter what it is.

The liquid will start flowing shortly after the stage starts, with the length of this initial delay diminishing as the levels progress. Depending on the version and the level, you will have one or two goals to achieve: make the liquid flow through a certain number of pipes, and make the liquid flow through a certain number of pipes while making it to the end pipe.

It sounds easy enough, but you can quickly start to panic as you realize that the liquid is slowly but surely progressing and you aren’t getting the piece you need to connect the two halves of your pipe network.

Not that that’s ever happened to me.

City Connection

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

I’ve tried, and I can’t really wrap my head around the story behind City Connection, or at least what I can glean from playing the game.

Let’s assume that you have a big cylinder. On this cylinder you have a series of parallel broken lines with a solid line at the bottom, each of which is a road that is being viewed from the side. Your goal is to get into your car with the super-amazing ability to jump and paint at the same time, and paint all of the roads from one color to another. The police officers, obviously, don’t want you to do this. They chase you down to stop you from your vandalizing ways. Your only recourse, other than avoidance, is to collect cans of oil that you can throw at the police cars, spinning them out and making them temporarily vulnerable.

Inexplicable plot aside, this game is good old-fashioned fun. For a few minutes, at least. Then it devolves into good old-fashioned tedium.

Bump ‘n’ Jump

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

On the surface Bump ‘n’ Jump is your standard driving game. You take your car down the road and try to get to the end of the level with the eventual goal of rescuing your kidnapped girlfriend. You have the ability to bump other cars off the road that might be in your way, scoring precious points. The road you’re on inexplicably goes through rivers and other obstacles, but you’re fine. As you may have been able to glean from the title, your car has the ability to jump.

You primarily use your jump to avoid the suddenly-ending road, but you can also squish opposing cars for extra Bonus Points. However, you have to keep an eye on what you’re doing. If you are too busy squishing cars to pay attention to the obstacles, there’s a good chance that you’ll jump directly into the river/ocean/other obstacle.

The game has discrete levels, but I was not able to determine if it actually ever had an end. As interesting of a concept as this game had, I couldn’t play more than about five levels at a time before I got tired of it and moved on.

Toy Bizarre

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Before he was involved in mega-hit arcade games Smash TV and NBA Jam, Mark Turmell created an oddly engaging game for the old Commodore 64 called Toy Bizarre.

I kind of wish I had the manual for this game, I might then know what in the world was going on. The game, it would seem, takes place in a toy factory after hours. The toys have come to life somehow and it’s your job to control the flow of new toys into the arena by shutting off the valves located at the edges of the screen, and to disable and collect the rogue toys, presumably for packaging and shipping. The screen is full of complementary platforms. When you jump on one of the raised platforms, it will lower and its complementary platform will raise, incapacitating whatever’s on it, allowing you to collect it. If you happen to be on a lowered platform when something hits its complementary platform, then you = dead. Or more accurately, you = flying off the top of the screen.

Your progress is hindered by a mechanical female with a giant key in her back. To keep the game moving, when you turn off the valves, she turns them back on. She’ll also meander about the level trying to jump on the complimentary platforms to incapacitate you. You can temporarily dispatch her by turning the tables and hopping on the complimentary

The game is simple to understand, fun to play, and completely bizarre. In other words, my kind of game.


Thursday, April 12th, 2007

I suppose that video games and space themes go together so well because for a long time they were both somewhat futuristic. This might be because it was easy to make weird things in video games and attribute them to aliens or some kind of mysterious Future Technology.

One of the results of this pairing is a game called Starpost. Starpost is an exceedingly simple game. you control an outpost out among the stars. Who owns the outpost and for what purpose? I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, though.

What does matter is that evil aliens are out to destroy your precious Starpost by crashing their ships into it, the curs. Your Starpost looks like four dice stacked on top of each other in a column. Its only defense is shooting a laser from either the left or right side of each section. You choose which laser will fire by pushing down the joystick: right will make the selector move clockwise, and left will make it move counterclockwise. Pushing the fire button makes the beam deadly. Your goal is to last for the duration of the time limit by destroying the rogue ships before they can crash into your post and disable the laser on that side (too many get destroyed and you lose).

Sounds hard, and it is for a while, until I hit upon an almost fool-proof strategy. If you hold down one of the directions on your joystick (doesn’t really matter which one) so that the targeting reticle rotates around the base, and only fire when it crosses over an enemy ship. Once I adopted this strategy, I was able to play long enough that I am now permanently bored with this game.

Donkey Kong Jr. Math

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

It seems like an obvious pairing: all of the fun of controlling a baby gorilla to counteract the tedium of doing math. Throw in some multiplayer action and what do you have? A game that’s weird, and not all that fun.

Donkey Kong Jr. Math has two basic modes: one mode where you compete with a second player using various numbers and operators to arrive at a target number, and another where you have to solve the math problem presented to you and supply the correct answer.

It’s every bit as fun as it sounds.

There’s not a whole lot more to say about this game than that. It’s not really worth seeking out and playing unless you’re just learning math. And even then, flash cards would be a better investment of time and money.